BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
PUNGO — Summer’s heat and sun are ripening the blackberries, and this fruit is becoming available locally at markets.
Blackberries aren’t as widely grown commercially as strawberries in Virginia Beach, but farmer Roy Flanagan grows them to sell pre-picked at his family’s farm stand at Princess Anne and Muddy Creek roads while farmer Winky Henley offers pick-your-own blackberries at the family farm on Charity Neck Road.
Henley said that his season started in June and should continue at least throughout July. However, Henley said there are a limited number of berries this year, and he recommended that the public should call before coming to the farm in Pungo to pick.
Berries are available at Flanagan Farm, where the triple crown, a later blooming type are grown. [Ed. – Flanagan is kin to John Doucette, editor of The Independent News.]
Blackberries are sometimes referred to as “bramble berries,” and many locals can remember picking the thorny, wild berries as kids.
The cultivated berries that are now grown locally are thornless, so pickers don’t need to wear protective clothing or worry about getting scratched.
These cultivated berries have improved in quality over the years and are now as large, plump, and juicy as their thorny cousins, growers say.
“The thornless berries have gotten better,” said Flanagan, who also serves as the Virginia Beach Agriculture Extension Agent. “They used to not be as good”
Extensive research has improved both the quality of cultivated blackberries and lengthened their season, according to Flanagan and Dr. Jayesh Samtani, assistant professor at Virginia Tech University and a researcher at the Virginia Beach Agriculture and Research Extension Center, or AREC.
Samtani said that there was ongoing research at the center to adapt the popular blackberry cultivars to this area.
These types fall into two major categories, including primocane and floricane. Blackberry plants are perennial, but the cane – or the productive part – lives two years. The floricane blackberries only produce fruit on the second year while the primocane blackberries can produce the first year.
This extends the season because each plant is producing fruit from last year’s canes, which are productive in the early and mid-summer, and this year’s growth, which produce in late summer and fall, Samtani said.
Floricanes are most commonly grown in this area, and the research on primocanes for this region “is very recent,” Samtami said. Still, he’s enthusiastic about their potential and thinks that they will work well for Virginia Beach.
No matter what the variety, Henley advises that blackberries, like most fruits, need to be picked when they’re fully ripe.
“Don’t pick them if they have any red at all,” he said. “They need to be completely black.’
Pickers can also tell when a berry is ready to be picked because a very ripe berry will fall easily into your hand.
“Don’t pull it off of the vine,” Henley said “If a blackberry doesn’t come off easily, it’s not ripe.”
Henley Farms is located at 3484 Charity Neck Road. Pickers are advised to call the farm at (757) 426-6869 before they come to the farm.
Flanagan Farm is located at 1707 Princess Anne Road. Call (757) 426-5585 to reach the farm or visit flanagan-farm.com.
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